A number of years ago I facilitated a meeting for an organization with which I was very familiar, to help them have a conversation about a certain area of their work. I led about a dozen people through several Liberating Structures, one of which was the activity called Nine Whys.

The purpose of Nine Whys is to “make the purpose of your work together clear” and it sure did that for the group that day. But it was not without its trials and tribulations along the way as their facilitator, when this powerful structure uncovered for the folks in the room that they were actually not on the same page about why they did their work. This was a surprise to us all.

Looking back on this facilitation, I realize that I went into it somewhat over confident and that I had held some assumptions about this group and their overarching purpose of why they exist. Nine Whys is listed as a 20-minute activity in the Liberating Structures menu and I remember that before the meeting I had thought, this will be fast and easy. It was not! There came a moment during the whole group share-out when I felt somewhat overwhelmed by all the different opinons coming forward from the group. I looked briefly at the door and a panicked and irrational thought bubbled up: I could run from the room right now!

Of course I didn’t run – and I actually laugh about that moment now when I’m teaching groups about facilitation – but stayed and facilitated the group through the rest of the activity. Part of what worked is that I asked for the group’s ideas about how they could come to clarity with each other and move forward. Together we got there. And, yes, it took longer than 20 minutes!

All this is to say that even though the root of the word ‘facilitation’ is to ‘make easy’, facilitation itself is not easy. If a facilitator is good at what they do, they make it look easy, but that usually means they’ve put in hours and hours of preparation to get to that point. (And sometimes they still need to ask the group for help!)

So, here’s a shout out to all the group facilitators around the world. It’s IAF Facilitation Week and a great time to recognize facilitators everywhere for the work they do.

[Cover photo credit: BCcampus. (Taken during the facilitation of a Liberating Structures immersion workshop in Vancouver, 2017.)]

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